Thursday 1st June 2017
The Bell Inn is the oldest pub in the town. Dating back to the 16th Century, it boasts many fascinating period features. The current function room used to be stables, with horses being brought in directly through the bar. A serving hatch still exists between the pub and The Old Foundry in Swain Street, where beer was passed directly to the workers. An underground tunnel supposedly runs beneath the pub, used for the purposes of smuggling in days gone by.
Local poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was believed to have stayed at The Bell Inn with his friend William Wordsworth and it is said that it was here that he began his most famous work - The Rime of The Ancient Mariner. Although some doubt has been cast on this, let’s examine a few facts. Coleridge and Wordsworth, along with his sister Dorothy started from the Wordsworth’s home in Alfoxden in 1797 on a walking tour through the Quantock Hills to Dulverton. Their first night was spent at the Bell Inn.
The port that the Mariner sails from bears an uncanny resemblance to Watchet, the only industrial harbour along that part of the Somerset coast. It was used later to export iron ore to the steel works of South Wales and took in coal from there.
The two poets believed they could get £5 from the publishing of a poem written along the way that would cover the cost of their overnight stays in the inns en route.
The reality was that Coleridge wrote the poem himself, yet the pivotal moment when the Mariner kills the Albatross, was suggested by Wordsworth. After visiting the Harbour, Coleridge returned to the Bell Inn and wrote the first lines. It is confirmed that more was completed the following night when they stayed at the Ship Inn at Porlock.
I’m sold on the story inasmuch that I believe Watchet to be the inspiration for the port of departure and that the first lines of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner were written in the Bell Inn.
These days the Bell Inn is a comfortable pub occupying a prime position on Market Street close to the harbour. Entering you will find the main room to the left with the bar counter on the same side. The furniture is loose and there is a piano against the front wall. The left side wall is covered with framed theatrical posters.
On the right side of the entrance there is another area that is partially partitioned from the main room. It looks as if it was a separate room at one time. This part of the pub is quite distinctive as it possesses a large stone fireplace, nowadays containing a cast iron wood-burner. Surrounding it on three sides is fitted banquette, furnished in red with four loose tables in front.
They offer four beers. Three of them will come from St Austell, Butcombe, Otter or Exmoor breweries. The other is a true guest, often from further afield.
On this occasion they were Exmoor (Wilveliston, Somerset) Gold (4.5%) and Hound Dog (4.0%); St Austell (St Austell, Cornwall) Tribute (4.2%) and Dark Star (Partridge Green, East Sussex) Hophead (3.8%).
Three still ciders were on offer and these were: Thatcher’s (Sanford, Somerset) Stan’s Cheddar Valley Cider (6.0%); Addlestone’s (Shepton Mallet, Somerset) Cloudy Cider (5.0%) and Rich’s (Highbridge, Somerset) Golden Harvest (4.5%).
This is very much a community pub and has six skittle teams (skittle alley is out the back) as well as two quiz teams playing in the local league. There are also open quizzes for customers. Open Mic nights are a feature and there is also live music. A full menu is offered, see times below.
If you should ever be in this part of Somerset this pub is well worth a detour.
Bell Inn, 3 Market Street, Watchet TA23 0AN. Tel: 01984 631279
Hours: Monday-Saturday 12.00-23.00; Sunday 12.00-22.30
Meal Times: Monday/Wednesday-Saturday 12.00-14.00, 18.00-20.30; Tuesday/Sunday 12.00-14.00
By far the best way to visit the Bell Inn is to arrive on a steam train of the West Somerset Railway
that runs from Bishop’s Lydeard, near Taunton, to the seaside resort of Minehead.
It is planned to operate trains from Taunton directly onto the railway in the near future.
A useful bus is route 28 that operates from Taunton to Minehead via Watchet.
In fact this is the route you use to get from Taunton Bus Station or Railway Station to Bishop’s Lydeard to begin a journey on the West Somerset Railway. It is half hourly Monday to Saturday finishing mid-evening.
On Sundays it is hourly and stops in the late afternoon.
Watchet station has a single platform. If arriving from Bishop’s Lydeard walk to the rear of the train, to the front if arriving from the Minehead direction. At the end of the platform is a foot crossing.
Use this, go down the steps and cross the road. Walk along the side of the harbour.
The Esplanade Club will on your left. You will soon be in Market Street and you’ll find the pub on the left.
The bus stop for both directions is in Harbour Street alongside the railway station.
Alight from the bus and walk to its rear. You will soon see the foot crossing mentioned earlier.
Here turn left and follow the route as outlined above.